In the 19th century, and possibly before, when one said president (of college, university, etcetera), one was also saying “important public voice.” One might even have been saying “moral compass.” In the intervening years, and most especially perhaps in the pst few decades, we have both developed a label “the public intellectual” and in some cases by direct and indirect means limited the voices of presidents of colleges and universities to symbolic speech and/or speech directly related to higher education per se. Pressures to limit the voices of presidents to managerial (though mission central) matters such as policies and procedures student debt, issues of access and accountability etcetera have been on occasion, balanced by outcry when presidents use their scholarly voice (in those cases where presidents come from within the academy) to argue for — or against — particular curricula. Often the policy impact occurs behind closed doors (e.g., those presidents included in the presidential convenings on education) or in the midst of lobbying for particular needs for ones own institution or one’s sector. (In Illinois, we are all grateful to those who push for MAP monies to be dispersed on time, for example, or who voice concern for work force development and liberal education rather than posing them over against one another.
Voices of presidents matter — they are of local and more wide-ranging significance.
Much of what is out there these days is worth a look. Today I am reading Michael Roth’s Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters — authored by Wesleyan University’s president. What are you reading? Is it by a college or university president?